How to identify bulimia in yourself and others. How to get help with bulimia.
Living the life of a bulimic is not an easy one. This writer has been dealing with the sickness herself for the better part of a decade. I am proudly not a practicing member of the Bulimics Club, but I still find myself confronted with temptation on a daily basis. To an outsider, someone who has never dealt with bulimia first hand, an eating disorder seems like a quick fix. They assume that it is something that can be stopped when prompted and that is that. How wrong so many people are. For those of you who are unfamiliar with bulimia, or for those of you suffering with it and need information or help, then maybe this might help.
First, let’s break bulimia down: Bulimia Nervosa is a psychological eating disorder where the individual gets caught up in what is commonly known as the “binge-purge cycle.” Usually large quantities of food or foods with high calories are consumed and then shortly after purged from ones system. Purging is the act of making oneself throw up. People who turn to bulimia are usually people who are trying to lose weight, or trying to maintain a weight that they are at. They think that by throwing up food before it is digested it won’t get broken down, fat won’t accumulate and you will magically become thin. What most people don’t understand is that bulimia does not work in that way and is actually very dangerous and detrimental to ones health. So to recap: bulimia is where someone eats a lot of food and throws it back up. Trust me, it is just as horrifically disgusting and terrible as it sounds.
Because bulimia is a psychological disorder, everything except the physical intake and purging of food takes place in the mind. For a lot of people, food is comforting. It can be one specific thing, or food as whole, but the relationship bulimics have with food is much different than that of a normal person. For me, anxiety, stress and boredom would lead to binging. I wouldn’t necessarily sit down to eat something with the intention of binging, but the next thing you know you have emptied half of your cupboards because you “just wanted something to nosh on” and have ingested 3,000 calories! With others, the thought of eating just sits there in the back of your mind, tempting you to eat, eat, and eat! If you made a batch of cookies that night, you eat one or two and that’s fine. But then a few minutes go by and the cookie craving is still there. You eat one or two more. Even after that though, the craving – that little voice in the back of your head – is telling you to keep eating cookies, because that is the only thing you can do to shut that voice up. You think to yourself “I know I shouldn’t do this and I will be so upset and ashamed with myself if I do,” but in the end the cookies win.
After the dirty deed of binging has been done is when the panic sets in. The gut wrenching feeling you get and overwhelming sense of shame sets in knowing that in one sitting you had consumed more than twice your daily caloric intake. It is one of the most horrible feelings ever. Not to mention the physical feelings of being so alarmingly full that you feel as if you might explode. All of these feelings rush together and the only logical thing you can think to do at the time is purge. Get rid of it all! Next thing you know you have the sink water running, you are down on your knees in front of the toilet and you have your finger down your throat, trying to undo all the bad that you just did. It’s a vicious cycle and until you come to grips with the driving force behind your bulimia, it is one that is very hard to break.
Getting help for an eating disorder is a choice you have to make, and believe me, it is a hard one. To seek treatment means coming to terms with that fact that something is wrong. No one likes to admit that something is wrong with them, especially if it is a psychological issue. Doubly if it is bulimia. Telling friends or family that you binge and purge is such a hard thing to do. The fear of judgment, the feelings of shame and thinking that those you tell will look down on you or be disappointed in you…all of these feelings make overcoming an eating disorder a challenge. Finding someone that you can confide in is a huge thing. Whether it is a friend or a family member or a counselor, having someone to tell will instantly relieve the huge weight that you have been burdening yourself with for so long.
If you know someone, or suspect that someone has bulimia, there are signs that you can look for:
- The person may have an obsession with fitness, their body or their weight
- Food and/or dieting seems like the front running concern in their life
- Being secretive while eating; Eating alone – not in front of people
- Disappearance of food; Collections of food wrappers being hidden
- Going to the bathroom shortly after (or sometimes during) meals
- The smells/sights/sounds of vomiting
- Marks on the backs of knuckles or hands from using fingers to purge
- Fluctuations in weight (goes up or down 10 pounds or so often
All of these, and more, are potential signs of bulimia or another form of an eating disorder. Some might be present…some might not be. Depending on the person, you can get very crafty with hiding your issues and those around you could be none the wiser. If you suspect that someone you know has an eating disorder, approach them carefully. It is a VERY sensitive subject and being called out is mortifying. Offer as much care and support as you can and go from there. If you are someone suffering with bulimia and looking to get help, admitting that you need help and have a problem is the first step. Find someone you can talk to, or seek a medical professional. Help is out there, and you are not alone.